The Malta Independent 20 June 2021, Sunday

57.2% of people with any form of disability experience some degree of loneliness

Albert Galea Monday, 17 June 2019, 08:45 Last update: about 3 years ago

Of those who have some form of a disability, including problems with vision, hearing, communication, movement activities, learning difficulty, or intellectual difficulties, 57.2% suffer from either moderate or severe or very severe levels of loneliness, a study carried out by the University of Malta’s Faculty of Social Wellbeing has found.

The comprehensive study, which delved into the topic of loneliness and looked at what factors can be associated with it, found that 51.1% of those with a disability were moderately lonely, while a further 6.1% were either severely or very severely lonely – over three times higher than the rate of severe or very severe loneliness in people without a disability.

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Overall, 43.4% of all participants were found to experience some degree of loneliness – 41.3% moderately, 1.7% severely, and 0.5% very severely. This means that around two out of every five people living in Malta suffer from loneliness.

These same results found that just under half of those with a form of disability – equating to 16,936 people – had found limitations in accessing leisure activities due to their disability, while 15,957 people with disabilities faced limited access to socialising events due to their disability. Also worrying is that 15.8% of respondents who reported having a disability – which equates to 5,407 people – reported difficulty accessing support services (either provided by the government, voluntary sector, or private sector) due to their disability.

Those aged between 35 and 54 reported the highest rates of severe loneliness, but those aged 55 and over held the reported the highest rate of loneliness in general. In fact, a total of 58% of respondents in the latter age group reported some degree of loneliness, compared to 45% in the former age bracket.

The study found a number of factors that are significantly associated with loneliness across the Maltese population. These factors are age (as seen above), level of education, employment status (for those over 16 years of age), marriage status (for those over 18 years of age), living with parents/guardians, living alone (for those over 18 years of age), whether a person’s mortgage is paid or not, perception of how adequate one’s income is, selfreported general health, perceived ability to cope with stressful life events or negative emotions (known as subjective well-being), whether respondents feel positive about their life, and having a form of disability.

In terms of education, the results clearly show that rates of loneliness – both moderate and severe – gradually decline with higher levels of education. In fact, individuals who have obtained a tertiary level of education display the lowest rates of moderate and severe loneliness (24.4% and 0.8% respectively), while the rate of moderate and severe loneliness in those who have obtained a secondary level of education report stands at 47.6% and 2.5% respectively.

A curious statistic that emerges from a correlation between marital status and loneliness, meanwhile, is that single individuals experience the lowest rates of loneliness, at 34.4%; with the rate being lower than even those who are married, which stood at 46.7% in total.

This finding is of interest, the study notes, because some studies have believed that marriage serves as a protective function against loneliness; however, it also noted that there are other studies which have noted the importance of one’s marriage rather than being married in and of itself.

With regard to marital status, however, the highest rates of loneliness – both moderate and severe – could be found in individuals who are widowed. A total of 79.2% of widowed individuals reported a degree of loneliness – 69.2% moderately, and 10% severely. Rates of severe loneliness were also high, at 7.2%, in those who are separated or divorced, a category which sees another 46.5% feeling moderately lonely.

Retired individuals, meanwhile, also display higher rates of loneliness (58%) than those who are in employment (36%). Those who are not in employment, such as students, unemployed persons, persons unable to work because of illness or disability, or those taking care of the household or family, displayed higher rates of loneliness than those in employment; however, they are still less lonely than retired persons (54%).

Participants were also asked whether the mortgage on their dwelling is paid, with this proving to be a significant factor in the rates of loneliness. In fact, the rate of moderate loneliness for individuals whose mortgage is not paid was almost double the same rate in for those who had paid their mortgage. This could indicate the financial pressures caused by a sense of housing insecurity have a profound effect on one’s level of loneliness, the study indicates.

There is also a significant association between one’s self-rated general health and loneliness scores, with those who rate their health as ‘bad’ reporting the highest rate of loneliness (73%). It is interesting to note, however, that those who rate their health as ‘very bad’ are 11.3% less lonely than those with ‘bad’ health. For comparison, only 33% of those who rated their health as ‘very good’ reported suffering some degree of loneliness.

In numerical terms, the study found that 29,755 people (6.9%) said that they do not have anyone to talk to about their day-today problems, while, when asked whether they experience a ‘general sense of emptiness’, 65,290 people (15.2%) responded in the affirmative and another 76,981 (17.9%) responded with ‘more or less’.

108,733 people (25.3%), meanwhile, said that they miss the pleasure of the company of others, while 110,090 (25.7%) responded in the negative when asked whether there are many people that they can trust completely.

A staggering 75,010 people (17.5%) responded that they did not feel like they could call on their friends whenever they need them, while 16,759 people (3.9%) said that they often feel rejected altogether.

51,252 people (11.9%) responded that they have no sense of belonging at all in their own neighbourhood, while 102,960 people (24%) said that they are currently a member of an organisation, such as an NGO, youth group, and culture or sports organisation.

This study is the third initiative that the Faculty of Social Wellbeing has undertaken on the subject of loneliness; the faculty organised a conference last November titled ‘Loneliness: Belonging and Community’ and also collaborated with Caritas Malta to produce a documentary titled ‘Il- Ġerħa tas-solitudni – The Wound of Loneliness’.

The study took into account a nationally representative sample of the Maltese population aged 11 and upwards. It used a stratified random sampling process with adequate representation of gender, age, and district, while the questionnaire consisted of a standardised loneliness measure – the De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale – as well as socio- demographic questions. A total of 1,009 participants responded to the questionnaire.

The main findings of the study were shared with Parliament’s Social Affairs Committee last Wednesday, where Faculty of Social Wellbeing Dean Andrew Azzopardi and his colleague Marilyn Clark shared the findings with MPs and urged lawmakers to look beyond throwing money at social problems, but delve into and address the root causes.

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